With the onset of the Onin War in Kyoto (1467-1477) and the breakdown of the Ashikaga Shogunate system, the Sengoku (戦国時代) period went into full swing. The Sengoku period (戦国時代), the period of the country at war, created a time of constant warfare between rival Daimyo lords thus greatly increasing the need for weapons. A side effect of this increased demand was that the quality and effort that went into producing the outstanding Bizen (備前) swords of the Ôei (応永) era was in danger of becoming lost.
Because of the solid groundwork in sword production that was laid in the Ôei Bizen (応永備前) period and before, Bizen (備前) smiths were able to produce large numbers of powerful swords for practical use. Also, since geographically Bizen Province (備前), thanks to the Yoshii River, had a ready supply of top quality sand iron, it was relatively easy to obtain the iron necessary for manufacturing swords in quantity.
While it is popularly believed that all of the swords made during this period of constant warfare were mass produced swords of low quality, that would be a mistake. Among the blades of the Sue-koto (末古刀) period, there are a large number of what are known as chûmon-uchi blades. These were special ordered blades often having inscriptions of the person ordering the blade. Additionally, these carefully crafted blades are signed differently than are the mass-produced blades (kazu-uchi mono). They are signed by the smith using the kanji, Bizen no Kuni Jû (備前國住) followed by his full given name and they are usually dated. Smiths like Kiyomitsu and some of the Sukesada smiths have left many outstanding blades. One of the most respected and outstanding of these smiths Yosazaemonjô Sukesada (与三左衛門尉佐定). Yosazaemonjô worked around the Bungi and Eishô eras (1501-1521).
Let’s look at the typical characteristics of the works of Genbeinojô Sukesada:
SUGATA: Uchigatana were the main swords produced during the Sengoku period of Yosazaemonjô’s time and before. Uchigatana during this period generally have a length of 63-66 cm, deep saki-zori, wide mihaba, thick kasane, full hiraniku, relatively small kissaki, and stout sugata. The nakago is generally short, to allow for single-handed use.
However, we find swords by Yosazaemonjô (与三左衛門尉) that were of 2 shaku 2 sun or even 2 shaku 4 sun in length. His blades will have a stronger koshi-zori with a wide mihaba. Some of his works will have the kissaki made in the ikubi kissaki style reminding us of the Kamakura era. This also holds true for the works of Genbeinojô Sukesada and we see these characteristics in today’s kantei blade. Today’s blade has a length of about 70.3 cm, a robust mihaba (width) larger stretched kissaki and a relatively shallow koshi zori with a hint of saki zori.
This blade was most probably made early in the production period of Genbeinojô Sukesada since it shows some, but not all, of the characteristics of changes in sugata that occurred toward the beginning of the Shinto period of sword making. Around the Tensho era, katana become even longer ranging from 72 to 75 cm. At this time the saki–zori is relatively shallow or gone all together. The nakago became longer for two-hand use.
One interesting characteristic of this subject blade by Genbeinojô is the length of the nakago. While we see the overall sugata of the blade becoming longer and more robust with an extended chu kissaki, the length of the nakago is somewhat between that of the short (one-handed) nakago of the uchigatana and the fully lengthened nakago as seen in the later Tenshô era sue-Bizen swords of this smith and others.
JIHADA: The kitae of Genbeinojô will generally be a fine and refined itame sometimes containing areas of some fine ko-mokume. Utsuri, while present, is neither clear nor distinct, but will usually be present and this is an important kantei point that should be noticed. There will be outstanding ji-nie and many chikei in the ji.
HAMON: On the whole the width of the hamon will not vary greatly throughout the length of the blade. While Genbeinojô is famous for his wide hoso-suguha done in ko-nie with a bright and clear nioi-guchi, he also tempered in various midare patterns. Sometimes he will incorporate more than one midare pattern on a single blade, but, usually, they will always be wide with little change in width throughout the blade. The yakiba is nioi based as one would expect with Bizen school blades. His hamon will exhibit sunagashi, hotsure, ashi, kinsuji, and in some places, fukushiki (double) hamon will be found. Overall, however, the hamon of his blades will present a refined and consistent feeling.
BÔSHI: When the bôshi is midare-komi, it is in proportion to and a continuation of the hamon from the lower part of the blade. The kaeri will sometimes be made deep. The turn-back will be midare. The pattern of the yakiba is exactly the same as that of the cutting side of the blade.
NAKAGO: Short and less tapered nakago are found. Cho–mei or long signature is standard in the case of custom – made works. Also included on the nakago are dates, second names (given names), and sometimes the owner’s name. Interestingly this blade while unshortened (ubu), was not signed. The total characteristics of the blade, however, are so swordsmith specific that the fact that it was made by Genbeinojô was authenticated by the NBTHK when they awarded it Hozon papers stating that it was worthy of preservation and attributed it to this smith. This attribution was further endorsed by Tanobe Sensei, the premiere living Japanese sword expert and former director of the NBTHK when he put his shu-mei (lacquer) attribution on the nakago of this sword. This is the one and only time I have ever found a blade upon which Tanobe Sensei did such an attribution.
The blade presented for sale here is mumei and has been attributed to Genbeinojô Sukesada (源兵尉尉佐定) who is believed to have been the son of Yosazaemonjô Sukesada. He is not as famous as his father, but he is very well thought of and is rated as a Jo jo-saku smith by Fujishiro. He worked around the Kôji era (1555).
The nagasa (cutting edge length) of this blade is 27 11/16 inches or 70.4 cm. It is ubu (unshortened) so it retains its original graceful shape exhibiting a koshi sori (curvature) of 0.58 inches or 1.5 cm. When you look closely, you will also see a bit of saki zori exhibiting influences of the shape of the Muromachi Era. The blade narrows only slightly as we go from the machi to the kissaki with a moto-haba of 1.22 inches or 3.1 cm and a saki-haba of 0.87 inches or 2.2 cm at the kissaki. The kasane of the blade (thickness) is 0.24 inches or 0.6 cm. As noted, the nakago is ubu and shows a significant lengthening as compared to the typical shorter uchi-gatana of the earlier Muromachi Era. The length of the nakago is 6 3/8 inches or 16.2 cm.
The jigane of this sword is a beautiful and compact itame hada with only a few areas of slight mokume hada appearing. There areas of clusters of extremely fine ko-nie throughout the jigane. There is also a feint but present midare utsuri present as one would expect on a Bizen blade from this era. The hamon is nioi based and done in a fairly wide suguha format with areas of slight notare and gunome formed by clusters of nie in, on, and around the habuchi. There are areas of niju-ba, ashi, kinsuji, etc. within the hamon. This is the kind of blade that the more you study it, the more wonderful characteristics appear.
The bôshi of this blade is well tempered in an almost ichimai type of temper (full-point temper). It has a wide midare turnback with a moderately short kaeri. The same hamon characteristics exhibited in the body of the blade, flow into the bôshi. Very nice, indeed.
An noted, the blade is mumei (unsigned) with a red lacquer shu-mei attributing it to Genbeinojô Sukesada by Tanobe Sensei, perhaps the greatest living expert on Japanese swords today. It also comes with a Hozon (worthy of preservation) certification from the NBTHK in Japan attesting to the fact that this is a genuine blade made by Genbeinojô Sukesada.
This blade is accompanied by a fine set of Edo era koshirae from the 19th century. The saya is lacquered black and it is excellent condition with only a few very minor dings from use by its former Samurai owner. The tsuba is made in an aoi-gata shape and is made of shakudo and gold. The shakudo has been carved in beautiful ocean waves with gold wisps of foam floating on top. The mimi (rim) is done in a thick and what appears to be solid gold. The weight and deep color of this tsuba shows that the shakudo has a high gold content and also indicates that this rim is very possibly solid gold. The menuki are made of deep, rich black shakudo and carved in the form of flowers with gold highlights. The fuchi and kashira are really outstanding. They are signed by their artist, Narita Eizui. Eizui was an artist who worked around 1800. He was a student of Kikugawa Muneyoshi Chôbei. He specialized in chrysanthemum, kiku, designs often covering the entire surface of the kodogu. This is exactly what he did in this case and the result is absolutely breathtaking as you can see from the photos below.
I highly recommend this sword and koshirae as it will become the highlight of any collection.